Breaking Curfew

Yobs beat Labour.


When Britain's Labour Party was re-elected in May with a majority large enough to conduct the business of government without bothering to consult the opposition, Prime Minister Tony Blair had little reason to expect any obstacles to expanding his crackdown on "yobbish anti-social behaviour." (Yob means a rude or thuggish young male, for those of you who don't speak British.) But only two months into Blair's third term, a 15-year-old boy, known only as W, managed to do what Britain's feeble Tories have not been able to accomplish since Labour came to power in 1997: overturn a Blair policy.

At issue are the U.K.'s child curfew laws, which permit police to forcibly send home anyone under the age of 16, whether behaving socially or anti-socially, who is caught outside after 9 p.m. without an adult. Citing the European Convention on Human Rights, W brought suit against the London suburb of Richmond and the Metropolitan Police, and convinced Lord Justice Brooke that he has the right to "walk the streets without interference from police."

The boy stated his reasons with childlike simplicity: "Of course I have no problem with being stopped by the police if I've done something wrong….But they shouldn't be allowed to treat me like a criminal just because I'm under 16." Unconvinced, the Home Office plans to appeal the ruling. "Instilling more respect in the youth" was one of Labour's campaign planks, and being bested by a teenager apparently isn't enough to instill humility in the British government.?